By Suzzanne Pautler
Kenyan Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, is known worldwide for her Green Belt Movement. Over the course of a thirty year period, her campaign encouraged women in East Africa to plant more than 40 million trees to combat deforestation. In addition, she authored “I Will Be a Hummingbird,” a humanitarian-themed story which challenges the reader to see life from the hummingbird’s perspective. “The least amongst us can be the greatest. Small development interventions can make meaningful impacts.”
Necessary Arts visited Sud Academy this afternoon for a three hour workshop focused on developing stage presence, stage directions, and memorization techniques. Small groups of students rotated through each skills-based workshop. I challenged each group to a memorization activity based upon various famous quotes. A group of six young teenagers focused on Wangari Maathai’s quote, “We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.” The young men were confident that if they heard the quote twice, they would be able to recite it back to me, but not one student succeeded.
We discussed how sometimes it is easier to see information than to hear it. Each student copied the quote onto a piece of paper, had a few minutes to read and memorize, and then were challenged to perform the quote orally. Two first boys accomplished this task with ease. The next two boys proudly stood in front of the camera with huge smiles on their faces, but no words escaped their lips. They were asked to spend more time memorizing, and then come back outside to record. The final two boys could almost accomplish the task without error, but were also asked to return in a few minutes to record again. One of the goals of Necessary Arts focuses on English literacy development, which is why we challenge the students to accomplish reading, writing, speaking and listening tasks. We know this is not always easy, but this is in and of itself part of the challenge.
Memorization in English
A few minutes later I turned around, and my silent, grinning boys had returned. During the five minutes they were in the classroom, they came up with Plan B. They would not allow themselves to fail this memorization task, even though they did not have the English skill set to succeed. Using their ingenuity and creativity, they returned to the camera, opened their mouths, and recited the quote with perfection...all in Kiswahili. “We cannot tire or give up” came alive right before my eyes!